The top eight scariest airport runways in the world

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For some people, flying can be a scary experience, but once you’re in the air or back on the ground that apprehension quickly dissipates. These airport runways certainly won’t help your fear of flying, but they will certainly give your holiday an adrenalin kick. These are without a doubt some of the scariest airport runways in the world, but they’re also some of the most unusual and most beautiful.

1. Princess Juliana International Airport, St. Maarten, Caribbean
Maho Beach has to be one of the world’s scariest spots to get a suntan. The landing strip of Princess Juliana International Airport is so short that planes have to approach at around 10–20m above the heads the valiant sunbathers by the seashore. So close, some say, that you can shake hands with the pilot.

2. Courchevel Airport, France
Hidden at an altitude of over 2000 m high in the French Alps, the runway at Courchevel Airport is just over 500m long. With a steep incline that slows planes down on landing and speeds them up on take-off, it’s one of the most dangerous in the world. Just ask 007, as this is the runway seen in the film Tomorrow Never Dies.

3. Tenzing-Hillary Airport, Nepal
Sitting 2743m high in the snowy Himalayas, Tenzing-Hillary Airport is the gateway to Mount Everest. Its very short runway slopes up the side of a mountain, and the surrounding terrain gives pilots only one shot at landing. And once a plane has commenced take-off, there’s no turning back either. If they aren’t in the air before they run off the end of the cliff, they just have to hope there’s enough power in the engine to get them airborne.

4. Sitka Rocky Gutierrez Airport, Alaska
Alaska’s Sitka Rocky Gutierrez Airport is located on the small island of Japonski, and its solitary runway is pretty much surrounded by water. Unfavourable weather can make it difficult for pilots to land, as they may have to dodge boulder, rocks and other debris caused by strong winds and flooding.

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5. Gustaf III Airport, St. Barthélemy, Caribbean
Gustaf III Airport is another Caribbean airport with similar properties to Princess Juliana International Airport, only instead of bathers at the landing point, they’re soaking up the rays at the point of take-off. It’s a small airport with short runways and hectic surrounding terrain, so it has what pilots like to say “the three whammies of flying”.

6. Juancho E. Yrausquin Airport, Saba, Caribbean
Another runway with almost zero margin for pilot error, the Juancho E Yrausquin Airport is located amongst tricky terrain, with hills on one side, sheer cliff face on the other and a short runway that drops into the sea. It is pretty though isn’t it?

7. Catalina Airport, California
Catalina Airport is known as the ‘Airport in the Sky’ because it’s basically a landing strip in the hills with sheer cliffs dropping off each side. These cliffs are a cause of major turbulence and downdrafts on approach, so you’re pretty much assured of a rough landing. The runway is also raised in the middle, so pilots can’t see exactly where it ends during landing or take-off. Bad weather also wreaks havoc on the strip, with potholes, soft spots and all sorts of debris a constant worry for pilots and grounds crew.

Queenstown Airport, New Zealand
The photos of Queenstown airport don’t look so scary, but it’s the terrain surrounding it that gives this one a spot on the list. The airport lies below The Remarkables – a craggy, jagged mountain range made famous by The Lord of the Rings films. They cause all sorts of issues for pilots and passengers, such as strong downdrafts and major turbulence. Bird activity, bad weather and poor visibility make Queenstown Airport live up to its mother city’s reputation as the adventure capital of the world.

Have any of you ever landed or taken off at one of these airports? What was your experience? Do you think there are any airports that are scarier than these? Why not share them with our members?

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Written by Leon Della Bosca

Leon Della Bosca is a voracious reader who loves words. You'll often find him spending time in galleries, writing, designing, painting, drawing, or photographing and documenting street art. He has a publishing and graphic design background and loves movies and music, but then, who doesn’t?



Total Comments: 17
  1. 0

    Try Lae airport in Papua New Guinea

  2. 0

    The original airport in Hong Kong , now much better at the new Lantau Island airport

  3. 0

    Maybe somebody has an old photo of the Kieta airport in Papua New Guinea, which is located on Bougainville Island, prior to the civil war, around 1985-1987. It was located right at the sandy beach, parallel to the ocean. Mountains were at both ends of the runway, so pilots had to land & take off on a very scary angle on full throttle. Very pretty location before the war, but extremely dangerous.

  4. 0

    Landing at Helsinki Airport some years ago in a blizzard was quite scary – could not see anything until the plane was on the snow covered ground

  5. 0

    My wife enjoys regaling guests with great stories of flying (as a ‘hostie’, ‘flight attendant’, ‘old boiler’ etc) Back In The Day, in PNG in the 60’s in single Cessnas, DC3s, Bristols & even a Catalina….. hairy scary stuff, apparently 🙂

  6. 0

    What about Wellington New Zealand – sea at both ends and approach over hills and houses!!

  7. 0

    Had an ‘interesting’ landing in Queenstown a few years ago. In an ATR and my wife and I were the only pax in the 60-70 seater. Don’t know if the PIC was having some ‘fun’ or what but the male flight attendant had a very worried look on his face. There is a VERY good navaid/landing system installed in QN now. Many countries are looking at it as it has been a big assist in certain weather conditions.

  8. 0

    To add to the PNG horror list, try Tapini airstrip. From memory, one end of the strip is solid mountain, the other is a cliff with 500metre fall, the strip is a 30-degree slope, very short.

  9. 0

    Not sure if anyone watched the SBS series “Worst Place to be a Pilot.” None of the airstrips, if you could call them that, are sealed in West Papua and the pilots have to be very skilled in landing and takeoff.

  10. 0

    Any landing anywhere and preferably on a runway, any runway, is a good one if you can unbuckle and walk away from it. And if you do you’ll most likely think that it’s not that scary, a bit of hellishly good fun actually.

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